What You Need To Know About Jackfruit Before Using It As A Meat Substitute

More and more people from all over the world are switching to plant-based diets. About 5% of Americans follow a vegetarian diet, and this number is even higher in the UK, India, and China. However, making the switch can be tricky, especially if you love meat. One solution is to cook with plant-based meat products, but these foods may be more or less healthy — depending on their composition. An even better option is to use jackfruit as a meat substitute.

With its neutral flavor and tender flesh, unripe jackfruit can replace pulled pork, ground meat, and poultry in most recipes. Its texture is similar to that of shredded meat, making it ideal for tacos, sandwiches, kebabs, casseroles, and stews. Ripe jackfruit, on the other hand, is rather sweet and can be a wonderful addition to desserts. Its flavor will remind you of mango, pineapple, bananas, or other tropical fruits.

Beyond its role as a meat substitute, jackfruit is a nutritional powerhouse. Although it's lower in protein than meat, it boasts large amounts of vitamins and minerals. One cup provides 157 calories, 2.5 grams of fiber, and 25% of the recommended daily vitamin C intake. You'll also get 16% of the recommended daily amount of potassium, 14% of the recommended daily amount of copper, and ample doses of vitamin A, vitamin E, lutein, and zeaxanthin. That said, there are some things you should know before cooking jackfruit so you can fully reap its benefits. 

What to look for when buying jackfruit

Cooking with jackfruit is easier than you'd think, but you have to do it right. First, look for young green jackfruit if you plan to use it in savory dishes. The unripe fruit boasts a neutral taste and soaks up the flavor from other foods. "The texture is just what you want for plant-based variations of dishes typically made with pulled meat, and I love how well it carries the flavor of a marinade or sauce," chef Katie Mae told Parade.

Most stores sell vacuum-sealed, canned, or frozen jackfruit with or without seasonings. Pre-seasoned jackfruit is more convenient and may taste better, but it can also contain added sugar and other fillers. If you prefer fresh, unripe jackfruit, choose a firm one with green skin. Note that its seeds are edible, too. Boil or roast them for about 20 minutes or until tender, and discard the peel before eating. If you go for canned jackfruit, rinse it thoroughly before cooking to reduce its sodium content. 

How to prepare jackfruit

Most recipes call for canned jackfruit, which is more widely available than its fresh counterpart. For example, these shredded jackfruit tacos require two cans of jackfruit packed in water. If the fruit is already seasoned, warm it in a pan and enjoy it as is, or mix it with other ingredients as needed. But if it doesn't have any seasonings, give it a good rinse and discard its seeds. Shred it with a fork, and then use it in your recipes.

Fresh jackfruit is a little trickier to prepare because of its tough flesh. First, oil your knife so you can cut the fruit more easily. Next, place the fruit on a firm surface and cut it in half. Remove the core, seeds, and fruit pods, and then cut the fruit into large pieces without taking the peel off. Simmer them until tender, remove the peel, and pat dry the fruit with a paper towel. Shred its flesh, store it in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze it for about two months. 

How to use jackfruit as a meat substitute

Cooked jackfruit can replace meat in burger patties, pulled pork-style BBQ sliders, stir-fry dishes, "crab" cakes, and everything in between. For example, you could try these vegan jackfruit tacos, which are just perfect for a hearty lunch or family dinner. As mentioned earlier, the unripe fruit has a bland taste, but it absorbs the flavors of sauces, herbs, spices, and other foods. Therefore, it's best to season it before or during cooking, or marinate it for several hours before adding it to salads or sandwiches.

Apart from that, you can sauté, roast, fry, or steam jackfruit, depending on the recipe. For instance, steamed jackfruit is ideal for dumplings. You can also make crispy "chicken" nuggets with fried jackfruit coated in a breadcrumb mixture, or toss the fruit into salads. Another option is to sprinkle marinated jackfruit over pizza or use it as a meat substitute in pasta or rice dishes. If you're a sushi lover, wrap a few pieces of canned jackfruit along with some rice, cucumbers, and other ingredients in nori sheets. Add soy sauce, sesame seeds, and spices to create that sought-after umami flavor.